Yesterday, the Biden administration reversed one of the most discriminatory and irrational policies of the Trump administration: the ban on transgender people serving in the military. This is not only a massive shift in tone but a fulfillment of a promise that President Joe Biden made during his campaign to the LGBTQ community and that Defense Secretary Austin personally made to me.
The ban was an arbitrary policy — one that, instead of solving a problem, created one, as transgender service members were thrown into a state of limbo and potential recruits were turned away and denied the opportunity to serve their country. By reversing the ban on transgender troops, the Biden administration is fulfilling a promise and sending a signal to active service members, veterans, recruits, and the American people that the government knows that discrimination is intolerable, unpatriotic, and against national interest.
As we celebrate the return of decency and inclusion to the White House, we cannot forget the human cost of the Trump administration’s dangerous policies. Today, I am thinking of Lucas Segal, a transgender man from Arkansas who dreamed of continuing his family’s tradition of service. Military service is in every generation of Lucas’s family: his grandfather, and his father before him, and his father before him. When he signed up to join ROTC, Lucas was looking to not only carry on his family’s legacy, but to find a new place of family and belonging. He also hoped that joining the military would build a bridge between him and his grandfather: after Lucas came out as transgender, his grandfather stopped speaking to him. But Lucas, a young man hoping to defend his country with honor, and to find common ground with his grandfather, instead was denied his right to serve simply because of who he is.
That’s because, in the summer of 2017, this nation’s commander-in-chief abandoned our transgender service members via tweet, throwing these troops — many serving in active war zones — and their families into uncertainty, confusion and fear. His tweet also cut short the dreams of young people like Lucas who had hoped to be part of a proud tradition of service, and turned away vital new talent in the process.
Unfortunately, the ban was one of only many attempts by the Trump-Pence administration to strip away the rights of the LGBTQ community. Over the past four years, the Trump-Pence administration tried to rip away access to healthcare. They argued before the Supreme Court that LGBTQ people are not protected under our nation’s civil rights laws. They lost that argument. Nevertheless, time and again, they sought to roll back our community’s progress, making the transgender community a particular target of their bigotry. From refusing to protect trans students in schools, to attempting to deny transgender people emergency services and shelter, their actions and rhetoric endangered trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people, and worsened the stigma fueling an epidemic of violence against the trans community.
The Trump administration was hell-bent on erasing transgender people and undermining the rights and welfare of all LGBTQ people. But this past November, pro-equality voters rejected their leadership of hate and division, and elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris — the most pro-equality presidential ticket in our nation’s history. And less than a week in office, these leaders have already made equity and inclusion a priority, not only in the repeal of this ban but in the issuing of the most expansive LGBTQ executive order in our nation’s history.
Today’s announcement builds on years of work by advocates. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, and our partners have fought this ban every step of the way — in our nation’s courts, in the court of public opinion, in our nation’s capital, and at the ballot box.
Elections matter. Advocacy matters. The actions and continued commitment to justice by people across this country and around the world matters. As we look to the future, we know that more action is urgently needed, and we look forward to working alongside this new White House, pro-equality Senate and pro-equality House to advance much needed progress. We can write a better chapter for our democracy — one where young people like Lucas can see their dreams fulfilled, their futures full of possibility.
Today, as we celebrate the service and leadership of brave transgender patriots whose service have meant so much to this nation, we recommit ourselves to fulfilling the principles of democracy they have sacrificed so much to protect — fairness, liberty, and equal justice for all.
Alphonso David is president of the Human Rights Campaign.